Labour Behind the Label

Day of action calls for urgent change for workers in the shoe industry

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Oct 17

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Waste from leather tanneries in Bangladesh (c) GMB Akash

6 October 2017

Day of action calls for urgent change for workers in the shoe industry

  • Concerned groups will be taking action at shoe stores in Bristol, Exeter, London and Manchester on Saturday 7 October – join an event near you
  • Petition already has over 10,000 signatures asking Schuh, Office, Harvey Nichols, Primark, Boohoo.com and other leading UK brands and retailers to publish supplier information and take responsibility for working conditions

People across the UK are taking to shopping centres this weekend to call for urgent action to improve safety and conditions for workers in the global shoe industry.

Groups are coming together in Bristol, Exeter, London and Manchester after hearing about the dangerous conditions and poverty wages endured by people toiling in leather tanneries and shoe factories to make the footwear we buy on our high streets. On Saturday 7 October, they want to share this message with shoppers and encourage shoe brands to Step Up and respect the workers who make their shoes.

Organised by Change Your Shoes – a partnership of 18 organisations across Europe and Asia – the ‘Step Up’ day of action falls on the World Day for Decent Work, when organisations around the world call for decent wages and safe working conditions for all workers.

85% of all leather sold in Europe is tanned with chromium, often in countries like India and Bangladesh. The leather tanning process produces a toxic chemical called chromium VI which can cause asthma, eczema, blindness and cancer. When it transfers to waste water it causes harmful pollution to the environment and to those living and working nearby. Campaigners are calling on leading shoe brands to move away from the use of toxic chemicals in shoe production. They are also calling on these brands to show that they are willing to be held accountable for working conditions by publishing details of all their suppliers, and to respect the human rights of all workers who make their shoes.

“We all buy shoes. But how many of us know the reality behind the boots and heels we buy?” said Nicola Round from Labour Behind the Label. ““We have written to 11 leading UK shoe brands and retailers, but unfortunately most have not responded fully to our questions – including Schuh, Primark and Boohoo.com. Harvey Nichols and Office have not responded at all. Shoe brands hide behind a lack of transparency and public awareness, but their customers want to know that the people who make their shoes are treated with respect. That’s why people around the country are taking part in this urgent day of action. Over 10,000 people have signed our petition so far, and we want to give more people the opportunity to make their voice heard.”

A parallel petition calling on other leading fashion brands to be more transparent has been signed by over 70,000 people. “There is now a growing and unstoppable movement for transparency in the fashion industry”, says Round, “People across the world are waking up to the links between the shoes and clothes they buy and exploitation of workers by well-known brands.”

As a result of increased campaigning in recent years, many big fashion brands have now started publishing information about their suppliers. Shoe and leather brands are lagging behind, but some steps are being taken. UK brand Clarks has recently committed to publishing supplier information, an important step forward for workers’ rights.

Change Your Shoes interviewed workers from a factory in Indonesia, owned by the Danish shoe brand ECCO. “We were pleased to find examples of good working conditions at this factory,” says Round. “Wages are on living wage levels, contracts are permanent, and workers are able to join a union. Sadly this is not the case for many of the workers who make our shoes. But examples like this prove that brands can be responsible. We will continue to work with all brands to improve supply chain transparency and working conditions. And we call on all brands to make urgent changes to stop workers risking their lives for poverty wages every day.”